Feedback: Do It More, Do It Better


With that arrival of Q1, it often brings around long-overdue performance reviews. So whether you’ve just wrapped up yours or you’re delaying the inevitable, I thought I would share some of my own learnings about the daunting task of giving feedback.

I once finished a workshop when this lively, bright young woman came up to me for some advice. It turns out that although she had been at her job for almost a year, her boss had yet to give her any feedback. Her boss had been sick and missed her 6 months performance feedback review and never rescheduled it. She was, she told me, desperate for any feedback so that she could improve, do better and hopefully rise up the ranks.

Another previous client of mine who’s yearly performance review was due, came to me with stories of her boss rescheduling over and over – to the point where she literally had to hound him to get him to give her a performance review.

And these are employees at Fortune 100 companies. Not small businesses with ill-defined HR performance review processes. And most people would pretty much rather do anything else job related (expense reports anyone?) than sit down and have heart-to-heart performance-related conversation with their employees.

I know because I have those clients too. They tell me about the feedback conversations they are delaying, putting-off, and sometimes altogether avoiding. Even when there are obvious areas of improvement, even when an employee is missing the mark, even when it’s an HR requirement for them, my clients would rather postpone these excruciating conversations.

Why is that?

To be perfectly honest, I’ve had some difficult feedback given to me recently and it stung. Yes, I welcome the opportunity to improve, to develop my weak spots, to grow as a professional, but there was still this part of me that only wanted to hear positive validation. And I know I’m not alone. Getting feedback can be tough in even the best of circumstances and heart-breaking in some of the worst. Feedback can call into question what you believe you know about yourself and leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed.

So who really wants to be the person who makes someone feel that way? Better to bury your head in your work and hope that your employees can interpret your subtle hints and off-the-cuff remarks. Right?

Only there’s this. . .

I have found that while once-a-year feedback conversations can feel deadly (often to both parties involved), regular coaching/mentoring sessions between a leader and their direct reports can create magic.


If you are regularly in contact with your team, you’ve set yourself up for several advantages:
  • You can actually help your directs course-correct before things get so bad you need to have a real “performance review” conversation.
  • You can actually help your directs monitor any SMART goals you’ve set together so that a) they actually pay attention to them and b) you’re both clear on whether the current situation is meeting the SMART criteria.
  • If things really aren’t working out, over repeated conversations, this becomes clear to both of you, often saving you the trouble of doing a performance improvement plan because your direct has gotten the hint and is already looking elsewhere.

So whether you’re thinking monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly (please don’t go longer than quarterly), it’s worth it to tear off the band-aid and develop a routine of lots of “small coaching conversations” rather than waiting to mentor your staff at their once-yearly performance review.

Will the first few times be painful? Probably! But you will find that over time you’re building a true pathway for meaningful and open career conversations with your staff? Definitely!

And in the long-run that saves you from sub-standard work, unrealistic expectations (on both sides) and frequently the frustration of knowing that you are tolerating something you should be dealing with more directly.

What would more frequent and open feedback sessions look like in your team? What could you gain from them?

Think of that and schedule some employee coaching sessions today.

And if you or your team has been struggling to have these types of honest feedback sessions regularly, please feel free to reach out to me. I’ve done team interventions, executive coaching, and company workshops on this very topic and others related to it and I’d love to help your company.

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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